My life has gone to the dogs
By BECKY SHEAVES
10th August 2006
She's sacrificed her 13-bed manor house, her fiance and her savings...all to
track down kidnapped dogs. So is Jayne a saint or barking mad?
Jane Hayes lives alone four miles from Hermiston in a rented three-bedroom
bungalow. She is down to her last 34,000 and is considering selling her last
antique Chesterfield sofa to make ends meet.
Yet, just four weeks ago, she
ran a successful business, lived with her devoted and wealthy boyfriend and, all
in all, had a lifestyle to envy.
Woman with a mission: Dog lover
Jayne with two of her pets
Jayne' s abrupt descent into singledom and
poverty is an extraordinary tale of one woman' s devotion to that most British
of pastimes: being a dog lover.
Single-handedly, she set up a website to
reunite missing pets with their owners. She also runs a helpline which she mans
all day every day for frantic dog owners who have lost their beloved pets.
And at a time when dog-napping has become a widespread crime, Jayne' s website - DogLost.co.uk
- is providing an increasingly vital service.
It receives four million hits
a month and has 100 lost or stolen dogs added to its database every week.
It' s my life,' Jayne says simply, sitting surrounded by Missing Dog posters and clutching her beloved miniature French bulldog, Hermy.
' I' ve got 2,300 people registered with me who are looking for their dogs. The RSPCA
uses the website, Battersea Dogs Home uses it. I can' t abandon the people who
rely on me.
' I know from first-hand experience just how devastating losing
your dog can be. And with dog theft absolutely rife in this country, I' m their
only hope. How could I walk away from that responsibility?'
But Jayne' s
mission has cost her, quite literally, everything. She has lost her home; her
share in the events business she used to run with her partner Tim Bristow, 46;
and last but not least, Tim himself.
He has ended their 11-year
relationship, saying her ' obsession' with finding lost or stolen dogs had taken
over their lives.
But for all that she has sacrificed, Jayne is
unrepentant. ' I would do it all again,' she says. ' I' m devastated to lose the home I loved, and, yes, Tim and I would still be together if it wasn't for the website, I know that. I've lost the man I loved and, to be honest,
' I've cried into my pillow so many nights, but when it came
to the crunch, I just had to do what I believed was right.
' Every time I
look at my own little dog, who was stolen and returned to me, I know I have to
help others in the same predicament.'
Jayne' s relationship with Tim, a wealthy businessman, began 11 years ago
just after he' d been through a divorce. They met at a dinner party in Northamptonshire.
' He was very self-assured and really too arrogant for me,' admits Jayne
with a wry smile. ' But over the next few weeks he found excuses to pop in and
see me when he was in London on business and gradually we fell in love.'
Initially, they divided their time between Tim' s Northamptonshire home and
Jayne' s in London. As their relationship progressed, they decided to buy a
Hermiston Hall was a real find and Tim and I bought it
together in 1999,' says Jayne, ' Of course, Tim' s share was far larger than
mine, and when we sold it for 3650,000, very little was left for me as I' d
already sold the coach house to fund the website.
' It is devastating to
lose it now. We were once so happy there.' Jayne' s obsession with finding dogs began four years ago when Hermy,
then two years old, was stolen.
' I used to let our three dogs out of the
back door at 8am,' she explains. ' It used to be a great game for them to run
all the way round to the front to greet our gardener arriving for work, who used
to reward the winner with a biscuit.
' What happened on May 9, 2002, is etched in my memory. I let the dogs out the back, walked through the house, picked up the front-door key from the hook by the Aga, and there on the front doorstep were only two dogs waiting. Hermy
' That day, we were putting on a ball in aid of a local hospice so the next few hours were frantic. By nightfall, Hermy
was still not back and I was getting seriously worried.
'As the party-goers
were dancing away, I was out with a torch looking down rabbit holes and
' Even though Hermy had cost Tim \'a3900, it didn't cross my mind that someone could have stolen her. I just thought she had got
herself lost somehow.' For the next six weeks, Jayne hardly slept or ate while she tried everything she could think of to find Hermy.
She was horrified to discover that provision for finding a lost dog was, to say
the least, patchy.
' I was only allowed to deal with the dog warden from
one area, even though we lived 50 yards from the boundary of the next county,' she remembers.
Rescue centres seemed to be completely disorganised. I'd ring every day and yet
they' d have no record of my previous calls. And the police didn't want to
' In the end, I was nailing up yet another lost dog notice when a
woman walking her dog noticed I was in floods of tears. She kindly took one of
my posters, and promised to photocopy it and put some up in her home area.
' Her daughter worked in a veterinary practice 12 miles away and one of her clients saw the poster and recognised Hermy.
'She rang me and explained that, as a dog lover, she' d been puzzled by the fact that some kids hanging about in Worksop
had been able to afford a valuable and rare French bull terrier.'
Jayne and Tim then mounted a dramatic rescue, which culminated in Tim driving his 4x4 up a pedestrian street in the centre of Worksop and snatching Hermy
back from the teenagers outside a bank.
' We could get no support from the
police, so we took the law into our own hands,' says Jayne, displaying some of
her characteristically gung-ho spirit. ' But someone thought Tim was stealing Hermy
and he was nearly arrested.'
Piecing the story together, Jayne now believes that Hermy was stolen by some teenage Irish travellers
who had knocked on her door the day before she disappeared.
' They' d been asking where the nearest garage was. We were a mile off the road, so it seemed a bit odd - but it wasn'
t until much later that the penny dropped.
' Later, we found out from the police that Hermy
had been sold on in pubs for a fraction of her real value three or four times in
the first week she went missing.
'In inner cities, drug addicts use these
dogs as currency to buy their next fix. ' When she got home, she was a changed
little creature - her sparkle had gone and she' d lost all her trust. It took
months to get her to relax.'
But where many people would simply be grateful
for the safe return of their pet, Jayne was unable to get the ordeal out of her
' I realised that dog theft was a huge and growing problem. Where
once petty criminals used to take bicycles or mobile phones, it was so much
easier to take a dog - and almost impossible to prove it.
'All the thief
has to do is say that they found the dog straying. The police just can' t make a
' And the business of extorting money from dog owners has
really taken off. Criminals steal the dog, wait for the Missing posters to go
up, and then demand money for their safe return. I' ve heard of people paying up
to \'a34,000 in cash to get their pets back.
' In my naivety, never having
switched on a computer in my life, I thought I' d set up a website and helpline
for people in my position. I thought it would only take about five minutes a
' Within a year, it had completely snowballed, which took its toll on
our private life. My only subject of conversation was dogs and Tim just got fed
up with it.
'Instead of wanting friends to stay for the weekend, I' d spend
the whole time in my office working.
' I didn' t have any time to give to
the events business and kept refusing to do the weddings. It all became very
' Tim' s not used to playing second fiddle to anyone and we had
some blistering rows. We had been about to plan our own wedding, but we ended up
barely speaking. And in a house that size, it was all too easy to avoid each
' Once, I was live on local radio doing a phone-in about the website when Tim stormed into my office and said we needed to talk. He wouldn't wait and the whole argument was broadcast. Obviously, we couldn't go on like that.
' What' s more, as a businessman, Tim could see the
website' s potential for making money and he was frustrated that I refused to charge anything. I couldn't - not even to pay myself a salary.
' In the end, he gave me an ultimatum:
the dogs or him. But I had no choice - the dogs had to come first.
' It' s
been painful, but the crazy thing is we' re getting on better now that we've separated the finances and live apart.
'He comes up every fortnight to visit Hermy, so perhaps we might be able to work
things out, who knows?' For all the turmoil in her love life, Jayne' s priority is still her website
-- even through financial ruin is staring her in the face.
She now employs two full-time staff and the whole operation costs her about 33,000 a month to run. The 31,000 in donations she gets each month from grateful dog owners doesn't even cover her expenses, let alone provide her with a living income.
has been approached by the same venture capitalists who transformed Friends
Reunited from a kitchen table operation to a multi-million pound business, but
Jayne walked out when they started talking about making profits.
defiance of all common sense, she is determined to go it alone. She has steadily
spent her capital and is now almost totally penniless.
' Two years ago, I
sold the coach house to Hermiston Hall and ploughed all the money into the
website. It was meant to be my pension, but all the money has gone. I've got
just \'a34,000 left in Premium Bonds, which I' m about to cash in too.
Tim' s infuriated and frustrated with me. But I' m so busy I can barely think
straight. All I know is that I depend on everyone' s goodwill for the website to work and I cannot ask for money from people. It would ruin the whole ethos of DogLost.'
To date, she and her team of 14,000 volunteers have reunited 2,600 dogs with their owners. Currently, they are seeking the owners of more than 1,000 dogs registered on the site and helping 2,300 people to find lost pets.
Every time a dog goes missing, Jayne posts its details and picture on the website. All her local volunteers are then alerted to look out for the missing pet in their area. Email forums and chatrooms
support dog owners.
It is clear that the site is much-loved by what Jayne
calls ' the doggy community' . But with her money running out and no business plan in hand, one wonders just how long Jayne Hayes can continue to run her particularly British one-woman crusade.
Jayne's website can be found at www.DogLost.co.uk